Superhero movies are rolling out in large numbers every year, and they seem to more loved than the last. But the question is how do you make a great Superhero movie? Here are a few tips:
Respect the Source
Yes, this is a comic book. And yes, the hero is most likely wearing multi-colored spandex with his underoos on the outside (or magically re-sizing ripped, purple pants). The story in which the hero came about finding his superpowers is probably about as thin as a Republican budget surplus. Yes, yes. I understand all of that. I can see how it would be easy to dismiss the source as juvenile fancy and tailor the entire production behind that faulty premise (see GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra).
And yet I don’t care. The same rule applies here as to all other areas of entertainment. If you are going to serve up shit, then your audience is going let it fall straight into the toilet. Yeah, you’ll get the little kids dumped in the theater for two hours while their parents dance the horizontal mambo, but you’ll never get the hardcore fan. In the comic book world, the hardcore fan is the uber-nerd.
And as we all know uber-nerds own the Internet.
That’s why Bryan Singer as a director was so revolutionary. He looked at a Hogwarts of teenage super-powered mutants and didn’t think comic book first. He thought characters, plot, pacing, action, theme, credibility. Singer embraced his inner geek. He raised the bar and set out to make a great movie. He did and $300,000,000 later, the superhero era was in its prime.
That’s why the failures of certain directors since X-Men now seem even more glaring. The Super-Bible has been written, yet somehow these film makers pissed theirs pants despite. Hey, I’m a nice guy. I’m not in the business of pointing fingers at anyone in particular to highlight their failure (cough, cough … Ang Lee).
The world of superheroes is rich with character, stories, plot twists and more. Visionary artists and writers have been cranking out loads of content since Prohibition. There is enough content inside those beautifully illustrated tomes to keep the WGA at work for decades. Still, there comes a certain time when it is acceptable to reboot a popular franchise and freshen the story with modern film making techniques, a new cast, and the latest special effects for a new generation.
Take, for instance, Batman. There have been three notable additions to the live action franchise.
Batman (1966) featured Adam West as the caped crusader
Followed up 23 years later (1989 & 1992) with an inspired performance by Michael Keaton and Tim Burton … until the series spiraled out of control with Val Kilmer (1995) and George Clooney (1997)
Finally, 8 years later with Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale at the helm (2005, 2008 and 2011)
Good spacing, matched with a dramatically different style with each version. Honestly, if you pretend that two Joel Schumacher movies never existed (as I do), then it makes the spacing between the two movie franchises even more profound, 13 years. Top marks to DC.
On the other side … Spider-Man again. Really?
It got real legs with Sam Raimi, nailing it with pitch perfect casting and story line (2002). Just as the Nolan Batman films, the second Raimi film (2004) was even better than the first, tackling Spider-Man’s true nemesis, Doctor Octopus. The third film (2007), though, lacked energy … and a point.
Now, only 5 years later, after a very successful trilogy ($2.5 billion), they are going back to the well with a new actor and a new telling of the origin story. By all accounts they are going to try to rip off Nolan’s gritty, realistic style. Somehow they are going to do all of that with the Lizard as the main villain and Spider-Man still in Glee club. Gotcha.
As I mentioned above, Christopher Nolan has extended the renaissance de super human to another level with his re-envisioning of the Dark Knight in much more realistic terms, particularly regarding his powers, purpose, and villains. He took that to even greater heights with Heath Ledger’s interpretation of the Joker. Simply brilliant.
The Joker has been very hard to bring into reality since the early days. Even the great Jack did more fool that mania. But purely on this homicidal re-invention of the Clown Prince of Crime, The Dark Knight (2008) can make the sole claim as the greatest superhero movie ever.
Realism counts. It’s hard, but it is worth the effort, because it transitions a comic book to mainstream adult audiences. Iron Man (2008) and Iron Man 2 (2010) excelled in this area, though, decidedly more light-hearted.
Others … not so much.
More so than other adaptations, the casting of the primary characters of a supers film is critical.
Casting is paramount. If you cast well (Hugh Jackman, Michael Fassbender, Heath Ledger, Patrick Stewart, Christopher Reeve) magic happens. The audience is drawn into the story despite the unavoidable goofiness of the dialogue. If you don’t get the right guy/girl, then you run the terrible risk of getting this … and this … and this.
In fact, if you don’t have a Halle Berry ready for your part, then just don’t make the movie. Wait 5, 10, 20 years until the right actor comes along rather than trample the hopes and dreams of obsessive males from 4 years old to 45.
I can sum it up in an even shorter point. Ghost Rider – Nicholas Cage.
This directly ties into realism, but I've made it a separate category due to its importance. Realism is nice because it modernizes the plot and characters, bridges the Comic Con fanbase into general, movie-going audiences. It’s the pepper and croutons in our superhero clam chowder.
Nailing the costumes though is not optional. They must be handled with utmost care. If necessary, set aside 25% of the movie’s entire budget just to get the right designer. If you fail, your hero is going to look like the baton twirler for the Rainbow Parade, high-stepping through Gotham.
Somehow Christopher Reeve pulled it off. The sky blue spandex with a red Speedo. Hell, it was the 80s. Maybe it was all the cocaine.
With the Internet, people (like me) are going to be far more discerning of their hero’s crime fighting wardrobe. The X-Men again had the right tone. They just abandoned it altogether until they flew the Lockheed Martin and passed them off as black flight suits. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) made an appropriate self-deprecating comment, queuing the audience in on the moment, and earning a good laugh.
Spiderman did fine, as well, by transforming his outfit into something more like ribbed underarmor rather than spandex. Also, his mask is easy because it completely covers his face, so you don’t have the weird mask eyes or white eyes problem. Or you could be like Batman and wear a shit ton of eye liner.
The Green Lantern used CGI, but even that couldn't make a plucked, space chicken look cool. Elektra and Catwoman both tried for the oddly unattractive, deviant sex fetish ensembles. Again, spend as much as you must … but you HAVE to get the costumes right.
An obvious one? I thought so too, every marvel movie since Iron Man has had a post credits, some even had two! And they usually fill it with interesting new characters or plots that gives clues to the next film in the franchise. Some people are more excited about the post-credits scene than the movie itself!
A Superhero Universe
To put it in plain English, you are much more engaged into the film when you know there is the bigger picture, take Iron Man for example, people loved the film as it was, but it was a lot better received after discovering the post credits scene explaining the Avengers initiative, this is why Thor and Captain had box office success, simply because it sets up for the Avengers movie with them all together!
What do you think? Agree or Disagree with me, comment below, let me know!